Breast cancer attacks young women

Breast cancer attacks young women

By Courtny Gerrish. CREATED Jul 17, 2013

MADISON - More and more younger women are being diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer.  Some of them face the harsh reality of being told they only have two years to live.  

The question is why? What's causing this increase?  

It's a horrible diagnosis for anyone, but especially for women in their 20's.  Many of them don't have any family histor,y so this diagnosis comes as a shock.  

For one Madison woman, cancer was in her family tree and that knowledge probably saved her life. 

Pictures tell a life story, and for Lindsay McClernan, many of her photos are reminders of a battle that's been won.  

"It sucks, it sucks going through it," Lindsay says.  

This mother of three found out she had breast cancer at 28, but it was something Lindsay was waiting on.  

Her mother was diagnosed in her early 30's.  "She had three sisters that were all diagnosed in their early 30's."

Two years into remission, Lindsay, in a way, is thankful cancer was on her radar.  

Without the family history she admits she really would not have been diligent., meaning her cancer most likely would have been discovered in an advanced stage.  

Instead, it was discovered early, but most don't have that advantage, and advanced breast cancer is showing up in more young women. 

Columbia St. Mary's Surgeon Dr. Alysandra Lal, points out, "what's concerning to me is that we've seen a very steady increase."  

Dr. Lal feels a new study backs up what doctors have seen for years.

An uptick in patients younger than 40 with cancer that has spread to the brain, bones or lungs. From 1976 to 2009, the number of American women, 25 to 39 years old, diagnosed with advanced breast cancer almost doubled.  

The big concern? No one knows why.

"A lot of times these patients don't have a family history," Dr. Lal says.

Best advice for all young women? Pay attention to your body.

Since this age group typically doesn't get mammograms, most breast cancer is discovered by feeling something.  

"We may not be able to prevent cancer at all, but if we could shift the trend to be early stage cancer which is much more treatable, that would at least be better."

For Lindsay, that early diagnosis gave her hope, knowing there was an end in sight.

Much of her healing came from Gilda's Club in Madison where she found support from others who shared their stories and journey through cancer.  

Lindsay hopes other young women are listening to her story and realize breast cancer can happen to them, family history, or not.  

"It is scary to think about."

We do want to point out advanced breast cancer in young women is still relatively rare.  The increase translates to about 550 additional cases a year.  

But if diagnosed with breast cancer that's spread in the body, survival rates for younger women are much lower.  

The cancer tends to be more aggressive than in older women.  The 10-year survival rate is less than 20 percent, and some are only given two years to live.

Courtny Gerrish

Courtny Gerrish

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Courtny Gerrish started at TODAY'S TMJ4 on March 13, 2006. A graduate of Indiana University, Courtny first called Evanston, Illinois home.